This article needs to be updated. Please update this article to
reflect recent events or newly available information. (June 2014)
Kurds fleeing to Turkey in April 1991, during the Gulf War
Iraq are Iraqi nationals who have fled
Iraq due to war or
persecution. Throughout the past 30 years, there have been a growing
number of refugees fleeing
Iraq and settling throughout the world,
peaking recently with the latest
Iraq War. Precipitated by a series of
conflicts including the Kurdish rebellions during the Iran–
(1980 to 1988), Iraq's
Invasion of Kuwait
Invasion of Kuwait (1990) and the Gulf War
(1991), the subsequent sanctions against Iraq, and culminating in the
violence during and after the American-led invasion and occupation of
Iraq, millions have been forced by insecurity to flee their homes in
Iraq. Unlike most refugees, Iraqi refugees have established themselves
in urban areas in other countries rather than in refugee camps.
In April 2007, there was an estimate of over 4 million Iraqi refugees
around the world, including 1.9 million in Iraq, 2 million in
Middle East countries, and around 200,000 in countries
outside the Middle East. The
United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has led the humanitarian efforts for
Iraqi refugees. The Iraqi displacement of several million is the
largest in the Middle East, and is much larger than the number of
Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 during the creation of the
state of Israel.
1 Reasons of refugee
1.1 Iraqi–Kurdish conflict
1.2 Persian Gulf War
Iraq War (2003–11)
1.4 Iraqi insurgency and civil war (2011–present)
Internally displaced Iraqis
3 Host countries
3.2.1 Refugees flee Syrian civil war, and targeted executions
3.5 Other countries
4 Third country resettlement
4.1 United States
4.2 Other countries
7 International aid
8 See also
10 External links
Reasons of refugee
Main article: Kurdish refugees
Persian Gulf War
Main article: Gulf War
On August 2, 1990,
Iraq invaded Kuwait. The ensuing 1991 Gulf War
produced nearly three million refugees, many of them from Iraq.
Almost all them left
Kuwait before the war started or after
Desert Storm was over. The largest groups were the
Kurds and Shi'as
Saddam Hussein after a failed uprising, as well as the
Palestinians were the second largest group uprooted by
the war, and 300,000 resettled in Jordan. There were a smaller number
of Iraqi Arab refugees, only about 37,000, mostly shia who moved to
Saudi Arabia. About 100,000 Iraqis escaped to
Jordan and Syria.
Shia comprise 55% of the Iraqi population, but are excluded from the
government by the
Sunni Arabs. There was a 1991 uprisings in Iraq
Shia uprising in March 1991.
Saddam Hussein regained control of the
Shia dominated South in mid-March, and his cousin, Ali Hasan Majid,
conducted public executions, bombarded city centers, and destroyed
homes and mosques. 200,000 people died in the South between March and
September 1991 from the violence. In 2003, there were 530,000 Iraqi
refugees in Iran, mostly Shi’ite Arabs.
Kurds fled to the borders of Turkey and Iran. Unlike
the Shi'ites, the
Kurds had a recognized political leadership—the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party
(KDP) that took control of northern Iraq. As a result of this formal
political leadership, the revolution in the Kurdish north was much
less violent than in the Shi’ite South, and produced relatively few
Internally Displaced Persons
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
In late March 1991, the Bush administration gave the Iraqi government
permission to use helicopters against the Kurds. These were used to
terrorize the Kurdish population. About 450,000
Kurds fled to the
mountains bordering Turkey and Iran, and the Hussein government had
retaken control of the main Kurdish cities by April 3, 1991. Turkey
refused to allow the
Kurds into the country, but there was significant
media attention to the refugee population. The
Kurds on the Iranian
border were more isolated and received less media attention, but Iran
admitted some groups of refugees and the physical conditions were less
harsh than on the Turkish border.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, on April 8, 1991 the UN
agreed to establish a safe haven in northern Iraq. To this end, two
days later the US and its allies established the northern no-fly zone.
This was in conjunction with the highly successful British initiative
Operation Provide Comfort.
In response to the humanitarian crisis, the US tried to station
unarmed aid workers in northern Iraq, but the
Kurds refused to
return. The US, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Turkey then
created a safe area between the cities of Amadiya, Dihok, and Zakho,
and excluded the Iraqi military and police from the area. Near Zakho,
the US military built a tent city to hold refugees, but it was not
extensively used. The
Kurds eventually moved to the safe area.
On February 15, 1991, President
George H.W Bush
George H.W Bush called upon the Iraqi
people to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which did not occur until 2003
under the administration of his son, President George W. Bush, and
incited the recent
Iraq War (2003–11)
Iraq have increased in number since the US-led invasion
Iraq in March 2003. After
Saddam Hussein fell in 2003, over
30,000 refugees returned home within two years. But by 2006, they were
fleeing again due to sectarian violence that culminated with the
al-Askari mosque bombing in February 2006. The US occupation
and ethnic conflict among Iraqis ended the minority
and allowed the Shi’ite majority to regain control, which worried
Sunni majority neighbors, including Saudi Arabia. Terrorist
Al Qaeda have taken advantage of the chaos and
violence to establish a presence in Iraq.
By February 16, 2007, António Guterres, the
United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees, said that the external refugee number
fleeing the war reached 2 million and that within
Iraq there are an
estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people. The refugee
traffic out of the country has increased since the intensification of
As many as 110,000 Iraqis could be targeted as collaborators because
of their work for coalition forces. A May 25, 2007 article notes
that in the past seven months only 69 people from
Iraq have been
granted refugee status in the United States. Roughly 40% of Iraq's
middle class is believed to have fled. Most are fleeing
systematic persecution and have no desire to return.
Iraqi insurgency and civil war (2011–present)
Internally displaced Iraqis
There is also a significant number of Internally Displaced Persons
(IDPs) in Iraq. As of April 2017 International Organization for
Migration estimated that there were about 3 million Iraqis displaced
within the country. As the battle to retake areas from ISIS
continues, thousands of Iraqis are being displaced on a daily
basis. Many IDPs face difficult conditions, and due to continued
instability and lack of resource are unlikely to be able to go home in
At the end of July 2007 the NGO Coordinating Committee in
Oxfam International issued a report, Rising to the Humanitarian
Challenge in Iraq, that declared that one-third of the populace was in
need of aid. The NCCI is an alliance of approximately 80 international
NGOs and 200 Iraqi NGOs, formed in
Baghdad in 2003. The report, based
on survey research of the nation's civilian population, found that 70
percent of the Iraqi population lacks proper access to water supplies.
Only 20 percent of the population has proper sanitation and 30 percent
of children experience malnutrition. About 92 percent of children
experience problems learning. These figures represent sharp increases
since 2003. There is a need to address the elderly, disabled
population, and disadvantaged families through physical, mental, and
social support to help them return to
Iraq once the war ends and
conditions are stabilized.
Iraqi refugees have mainly fled into urban centers across region,
rather than in refugee camps. There are roughly 2 million Iraqi
refugees living in countries neighboring Iraq and 95% of them
still live in the
Middle East - although other nations in Europe have
begun to accept Iraqi refugees. It is difficult for refugees and
their children to obtain legal status in a middle eastern country as
they are treated as temporary "guests" rather than as "refugees".
Current regional host countries include Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon,
Kuwait, Iran, small numbers in Iraq, the Gulf States, and Turkey.
Egypt and Turkey have signed the
UNHCR refugee convention, and
even then with heavy restrictions and limited effective protection.
Main article: Iraqis in Jordan
Pre-war relations between
Iraq were positive, especially
economically. By 2009,
Jordan had taken in roughly 700,000 Iraqi
refugees since the war began, a high proportion for a country of only
6 million. Until the end 2005, Iraqis were allowed into
could register as guests for 3–6 months without work
authorization. Renewal became more difficult after 2005 when Iraqi
terrorists associated with
Al Qaeda bombed a
Jordan hotel, and the
number of unregistered Iraqis increased. In 2006,
single men and boys between age 17-35 from entering, then required all
Iraqis produce a newly issued passport. In February 2008, the
Jordanian government began requiring Iraqi refugees to apply for a
Jordan visa in
Iraq rather than at the Jordanian border. Only
Iraqis who have been able to invest in Jordanian businesses or who
employed in fields of national interest have been able to obtain
long-term status and receive yearly residence permits, seek employment
in specified fields, send their children to schools, and access public
In the capital city of Jordan, Amman, the population blames Iraqis for
increasing cost of housing and inflation. Health facilities are
Jordan regardless of legal status, but facilities in Iraqi
neighborhoods are overstretched and many Iraqis are afraid of being
identified as undocumented. Additionally, water infrastructure in
Jordan is inadequate to support the large influx of refugees. A
UNHCR-UNICEF international appeal to support the education of Iraqi
children in Jordan, Syria,
Lebanon will give
million to absorb 50,000 Iraqi children into public schools. Most
Jordan lack legal status and stay hidden for fear of
deportation, making aid efforts difficult.
Iraqi refugees in Syria
Main article: Iraqis in Syria
Syria has historically offered assistance to Iraqi refugees. At
the beginning of 2007, the
UNHCR estimated that the number of Iraqi
Syria was over 1.2 million. 80–90% of the Iraqi
refugee population lives in the capital city of Damascus. The
reason for its large refugee population can be attributed to more than
just geography. Until 2007,
Syria maintained an open-door policy to
Iraqis fleeing the war-ravaged country.
Iraqis in Syria live in poverty, and an estimated 50,000 Iraqi
girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution
just to survive. According to the UNHCR, about 27% of Iraqi
refugee families in
Syria are without a breadwinner.
Early in the recent
Iraqis in Syria were the politically
threatened Baath party, including supporters of Hussein's
government. But after the fighting began in Falluja in 2004, Shi'a
were the main new entries to Syria. Before the restrictions were
imposed, Iraqis seeking refuge in
Syria received 3 month visas or
permits with extension possibilities. However, the refugees are not
entitled to work, but most do anyway due to lax enforcement on the
part of the Syrian government. There were few sanctions for those
who overstay and fail to renew.
Numbering over 1.2 million, Iraqi refugees comprise a large portion of
Syria's population of 18 million. This has caused an increase in
the cost of living and caused a strain on infrastructure.
Sources like oil, heat, water and electricity were said to be becoming
more scarce as demand had gone up. Syrian's deputy foreign
minister has stated that the price of food has increased by 30%,
property prices by 40%, and rentals by 150%. Water consumption
rose by 21%, costing the Syrian government about 6.8 million US
dollars in 2006. The Iraqi population also strained the labor
market: Syrian unemployment was 18% in 2006. Refugees put a strain
on health services (which are free in Syria), and
public school overcrowding. In 2005 and 2006,
Syria used $162
million to offer aid to Iraqi refugees in the country.
Syria once maintained an open border for Arab migrants, and entitled
Iraqi refugees to Syrian health care and schools. The Syrian
government accepted Iraqis as prima facie refugees. However, on
October 1, 2007 news agencies reported that
restrictions on Iraqi refugees, as stated by a spokesperson for the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Under Syria's new
rules, only Iraqi merchants, businessmen and university professors
with visas acquired from Syrian embassies may enter
Iraqi Refugees, Damascus, Syria
Refugees flee Syrian civil war, and targeted executions
In 2012–13, as a Syrian civil war intensified, many Iraqi refugees
fled the rising violence. Fewer than 200,000 Iraqis remained in Syria
in 2012, according to the office of the Iraqi ambassador in Damascus.
Many of the Iraqis were helped to return to
Iraq by the provision of
free flights and bus tickets, paid for by the Iraqi government. Tens
of thousands of Iraqi families traveled back to their original
Iraq is itself unstable, and sectarian bomb attacks
occur there almost daily.
The majority of Iraqis fleeing back from
Syria in 2012 were Shia
according to a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and
Migration. The UN refugee agency said Iraqis in the mainly Shia
Damascus suburb of Sayeda Zeinab were fleeing not only increasing
violence but "targeted threats" against them. In July 2012, the most
intense fighting of the 17-month-old Syrian conflict began. Rebels
took over whole neighborhoods of the Syrian capital, and government
forces responded ferociously. Amid the fighting, it appears rebel
fighters specifically targeted Iraqis. According to the UN, an Iraqi
family of seven was killed at gunpoint in their Damascus apartment. 23
Iraqi refugees were reported killed in July, some by beheaded,
according to the Washington-based Shiite Rights Watch. The attacks
reflect the sectarian nature of Syria's war, In which opposition
mostly from the country's
Sunni majority has risen up against the
government of Syrian President Assad. Motives for attacks against
Iraqi refugees are unclear, but may be due to antagonism towards Shia
generally, because of their sectarian association with the government,
or because Iraq's Shiite-led government is perceived as siding with
Baghdad has publicly vowed not to become involved with
Syria's war, skeptics believe it is at least helping Iran ship weapons
and reinforcements to Assad's government. In March, the US urged
Baghdad to cut off its airspace to flights headed to
Syria from Iran,
and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to curb arms
smuggling across his borders into Syria.
Many Shi'a Iraqis fleeing
Saddam Hussein in the 1990s moved to
Lebanon. A 2007 article by the journal
Middle East Report reported
Lebanon hosted around 40,000 Iraqi refugees. About 80% of
Iraqi refugees live in Lebanon's capital of Beirut, contrary to many
other Middle Eastern countries where Iraqi refugees are entirely
concentrated in an urban center.
Lebanon has instituted a policy of
non-refoulement. Refugees living in
Lebanon cannot be forcibly
deported if their lives will be in danger in their home countries.
Like in other Middle Eastern host countries, Iraqi refugees in Lebanon
face the negative effects of unemployment and poverty as they cannot
obtain work visas.
Egypt, which does not border Iraq, became a major destination for
Iraqi refugees in 2006. Iraqi refugees entered
quickly. Only 800 refugees were in
Egypt in 2003, but by 2006, there
were almost 150,000 Iraqis in Egypt. In 2007,
restrictions on the entry of new refugees into the country.
Since 2006, Iraqis have been the leading nationality seeking asylum in
industrialized countries. Increasing tensions in the Middle East
and the treatment of Iraqi refugees as temporary guests in the Arab
states has led to increased travel distance for Iraqi asylum
Sweden has seen a surge of refugees from
Iraq since 2007. Sweden
currently accepts more than half of all asylum applications from
Iraqis in Europe. In 2006, more than 9,000 Iraqis fled their country
and came to
Sweden seeking shelter, a four times increase over 2005.
Sweden's immigration authority expects up to 40,000 Iraqis seeking
asylum in 2007. An estimated 79,200 Iraqis call
Sweden their home.
Many Iraqis fled to
Sweden during the 90's as well. Current refugees
Sweden because many of their relatives are there and because of
the generous refugee policies.
Third country resettlement
See also: Third country resettlement
In 2008, the
UNHCR resettled 17,800 Iraqi refugees in third countries
outside the Middle East.
In early February 2007 the
United States and the United Nations
developed a plan to resettle several thousand refugees in the United
States. In an initial step, refugees would apply for applicant
status. The US aimed to settle at least 5,000 refugees in the US
by the end of 2007. Kristele Younes of Refugees International
supported these moves towards resettlement, but she said that "the
numbers remain low compared to what the needs are." A July 22,
2007 article notes that in 2007 only 133 of the planned 7000 Iraqi
refugees were allowed into the United States. Of the refugees'
status, US Senator
Edward M. Kennedy
Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts) said, "We can’t
solve the problem alone, but we obviously bear a heavy responsibility
for the crisis."
Iraqi refugees looking to live in the
United States must apply to the
Refugee Admission Program (USRAP). USRAP involves both
governmental and non-governmental partners to resettle refugees in the
United States. The US Department of State’s Bureau of
Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) has overall management
responsibility of USRAP. The
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interview
refugee applicants and review applications for refugee status. The
PRM coordinates with the
UNHCR for Iraqi refugee referrals.
The USRAP, UNHCR, and DHS prioritize refugees who are affiliated with
the US government and religious minorities. Iraqis can be referred
by the UNHCR, a US embassy, some NGOs, the US government, a US
contractor, a US media organization, eligible family members in the
US, and the US military. USCIS officers interview Iraqi
refugees in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq, and have not
been able to work in
Syria since March 2011. Applicants to the
USRAP must fall under the US's legal definition of "refugee", having
"suffered past persecution or [have] a well founded fear of future
persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in
a particular social group, or political opinion in his or her home
country". Iraqis in the US may apply for asylum with the USCIS if
they cannot return to
Iraq because they have been "persecuted or fear
that they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion,
nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political
opinion". Since 2007, 203,321 Iraqi nationals have been referred,
the USCIS interviewed 142,670 applicants, approved 119,202 for
resettlement, and 84,902 have arrived in the US, a tiny fraction of
those who wish to apply. Refugees in America are usually
settled in small towns rather than big cities because they receive
community support that helps them navigate their new life.
The UN aims to register 135,000 to 200,000 to determine which people
had fled persecution and would thus qualify for refugee status.
Australia resettled almost 6,000 Iraqi refugees.
According to the List Project, led by Kirk W. Johnson, "Poland, which
had approximately 2,500 troops at its peak, was scheduled to withdraw
its forces from
Iraq by October 2008. Building on the successful
precedent set by Denmark and the eventual British airlift, the Polish
government offered all of their Iraqi employees either full
resettlement or a one-time payment of $40,000 if they remained in
Main article: Minorities in Iraq
Among Iraqi refugees in Germany, about 50 percent are Kurds. In
the UK, about 65-70% of people originating from
Iraq are Kurdish, and
70% of those from Turkey and 15% of those from Iran are Kurds.
Main article: Assyrian exodus from Iraq
Perhaps as many as half a million Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Armenians
are thought to have fled the sectarian fighting in Iraq, with
Christians bearing the brunt of animosity toward a perceived "crusade"
United States in Iraq. Most chose to go to
Syria due to the
cultural similarities between the two countries, Syria's open-door
policy to Iraqis, and the large population of Assyrians and other
Christians in the country which perhaps totals as high as 2 million.
The large influx of Iraqis may tip the demographic scale in a country
with a diverse population. Although
Christians represent less
than 5% of the total Iraqi population, they make up 40% of the
refugees now living in nearby countries, according to U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees. Between October 2003 and March 2005
alone, 36% of 700,000 Iraqis who fled to
Syria were Assyrians and
other Christians, judging from a sample of those registering for
asylum on political or religious grounds.
Mandaeans are an ancient ethnoreligious group in southern Iraq. They
are the last practicing gnostic sect in the Middle East. There are
thought to have been about 40,000
Iraq prior to the
US-led invasion. As a non-Muslim group, they have been abused by
sectarian militias. The vast majority of Baghdadi
Baghdad; many have fled to Syria,
Jordan and elsewhere while
Mandaean communities of southern
Iraq are mostly secure. Mandaean
diaspora organizations are reportedly focusing all their resources on
evacuating all the remaining
Mandaeans in Iraq.
Palestinians in Iraq
A small Palestinian population of about 38,000 also faced pressure,
with many living in the Baghdadi neighborhood of al-Baladiya.
Denied access by Syria, more than 350
Palestinians remained in
"inhumane conditions" on the Syrian border until finally being allowed
into the country. They face more uncertain conditions because most
Palestinians do not hold Iraqi citizenship and consequently do not
hold passports. The
UNHCR appealed to
Israel to allow this particular
group of refugees admission into the occupied territories of Gaza and
the West Bank. The agency said that from resettlement countries, only
Syria had taken
Iraq in the past.
Palestinian Iraqi girl plays with a clothesline
Yazidi community was affected by several acts of violence in 2007.
On April 23, 2007 masked gunmen abducted and shot 23 Yazidis near
Mosul. On August 14, 2007 Yazidis were targeted in a series of
bombings that became the deadliest suicide attack since the
Iraqi refugee populations face unique challenges, particularly since
they are located in urban centers rather than in refugee camps. Access
to public services like health care and education is very limited for
refugees. In late 2007, less than 40% of Iraqi refugee children
attended school. In many host countries, education is offered free
of charge to all children, including refugees. However, the cost of
books, uniforms, and a lack of inexpensive transportation prevents
many Iraqi refugee children from actually attending school.
There is little data available on the health status of Iraqi refugees,
but limited reports indicate that they suffer worse health than that
of their host populations. Psychological health care is especially
crucial yet lacking, as many Iraqis suffer psychologically as a result
of witnessing extreme violence. The current lack of health care
contrasts greatly to the high-quality and accessible health services
Iraq before the 2003 invasion.
On April 17, 2007 an international conference on the Iraqi refugee
crisis began in Geneva, Switzerland. Attendees included Human Rights
Watch representatives, US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives and
members of 60 other Non-Governmental Organizations. The World
Health Organization began a two-day conference in Damascus, Syria, on
July 29, 2007. The conference addressed the health requirements of the
more than two million refugees from Iraq. Aside from the WHO,
participants in the conference included the International Committee of
the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and various UN agencies.
On September 18, 2007, the UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and WFP launched
an appeal for $84.8 million to help host countries meet health and
nutrition needs of Iraqi refugees. The funds support clinics,
facilities, medicines, and medical supplies. In 2007, Jordan,
Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, UN agencies, and
NGOs assisting Iraqi
refugees received about $60 million to better provide for Iraqi
refugee populations. $27 million was allocated to health care as
part of the UN joint health appeal. As of 2007, the US has pledged
$18 million and the European Union has pledged 50 million euros to
assist Iraqi refugees.
Asylum in the United States
Human Rights in the Middle East
Human rights in Iraq
Human rights in post-invasion Iraq
Civil war in Iraq
Refugee Camp, West Azerbaijan
Refugees of the Syrian Civil War
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^ "Incipient Genocide" http://www.aina.org/reports/ig.pdf
^ Doug Bandow, "Thrown to the Lions," "The American Spectator," July
2, 2007 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 5, 2007.
Retrieved July 18, 2007.
^ "In Twenty Years there will be No
Christians in Iraq" "The Guardian"
Mandaeans 'face extinction', Angus Crawford, BBC, March 4,
^ Valentina Mites, "Iraq:
Refugee Conference Addresses Plight Of
Millions," Radio Free Europe April 17, 2007
^ "WHO opens conference in
Syria on Iraqi refugee health needs," The
International Herald Tribune, July 29, 2007
Iraqi Refugees: Seeking Stability in
Syria and Jordan
Iraq: The World's Fastest Growing
Uneasy Havens Await Those who Flee Iraq
U.N.: Iraqi civilian death toll reaches new monthly high
Iraq Pay the Cost of Being 'Saddam's People'
Forced Migration Review special July 2007 issue on
Iraq available in
Arabic and English
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch November 2006 report on the refugee crisis
November 30, 2006
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch statement on the West's silence
on the refugee crisis
January 19, 2007 Human Rights Tribune on the refugee crisis
January 22, 2007 BBC report on the refugee crisis
Iraqi children soldier on
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre's March 30 2007 report on
displaced people in Iraq
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre page of 22 maps of internal
and external displacement of people in Iraq
May 13, 2007 New York Times Magazine article on "The Flight from Iraq"
Refugees International July 27, 2007 report and pdf report on the
refugee crisis and the UN response
July 30, 2007 NNCI and
Oxfam International report on resource
deficiencies in the civilian population
United Arab Emirates
Iraq War (2003–2011)
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